When we drove into the entrance of the riding school a few weeks back, this great hulk of aged compost was really a sight for poor eyes. Now, I don't mean that my eyesight is bad... as it's not...
Let me explain...
This year I decided to do my best to cut down further on my participation as a consumer in this crazy world we now live in; I'm simply thinking more about what I need rather than what I want. So... my choice is that I want to buy less, so to be able to pick up compost for free from not too far away was a definite joy to grab hold of!
This compost is well rotted, soft, pliable, and already comes with worms included! It's a really well-turned mix of stable clear-out, woodchips, goat dung, those stone chippings you get to keep horses' hooves keen, and the rake out from the arena base. The management of it has been good too, as it's clearly been turned with a mechanical digger, and heaved up high, and the result is rather sublime.
This morning we did another two journeys... another two tonnes. So, in nine journeys and across three days, an allotment friend and myself... AND her reliant Citroen Berlingo, have moved nine tonnes of compost. We've shared it... 50/50... though I will be baking a loaf or two of bread as a little thank you. Our journies to the riding school are not quite over yet though, as we agreed another morning of shovelling later in the week.
Recently, I'd been wondering how I was going to even topdress the cardboard of our edged beds with an inch of compost. You see, I didn't really want to take compost from our old plot; maybe a few shovels full as an activator though certainly no more. The compost that we have in our pallet compost bin needs more time to break down, with a good turn or two to come, though the one in our Hotbin needs to be emptied so can be used. However, I'd really no idea how I was going to cover even thinly the three layers of cardboard of our repositioned edged beds... without spending money... and pretty serious money too!
So, being now able to put down not only an inch of compost on each edged bed but rather three or four inches is really a joy to behold, and a sight for my poor eyes and, by my own decision, my shallow pockets.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 26
As I've been pottering at the allotment today, two well-known sayings have come to mind. The first is "It's never too late to do some good" and the second is "Don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today".
It's the 1st of January and obviously the start of a brand new calendar year. Our growing year is gently moving forward and getting in to gear, and this morning it's been about tidying the beds on our top plot.
Where we had our completely unproductive Butternut Waltham squash and quite productive climbing beans I've set to and weeded the bed; taking out any perennial weeds that were starting to take hold and covering all with a single layer of cardboard. A single layer here will do for the moment, and if it needs another that will have to wait for a few weeks as the rest of our cardboard hoard is needed for sorting out our newly acquired half plot next door.
Another bed, where our autumn harvesting broad beans were - the Luz de Otono that I vainly had much hope for - has been weeded thoroughly: some couch grass was coming through and it had to come out. I made sure I followed the root back as far as I could and pulled it from as deep as possible. We'll try the Luz de Otono again next year, this time sowing from seed. With such an unusually wet autumn this year the plug plants grew well but got black spot quickly and needed to come out. So today was just about tidying that bed. The soil is quite high in this edged bed, as we had added compost to hill the potatoes, so some of it will soo go onto a new bed at the plot next door.
Mr Robin - I'm sure not the one from home - is keeping me company and fluttering nearby; taking in the view of what's been done. Sitting next to me on the left arm of our blue bench, every now and again he flits off to the ground, digs around, rustles something out and has another nibble of lunch. Now he's off in the buddleja, which I'm glad I haven't yet cut back; clearly he doesn't like it all too neat.
It's completely silent down here today... almost. Even though the sky may be grey, the stillness is quite golden. There are a few people at the pub so occasionally there's a background murmur from the beer garden. Others are walking along the canal path and the river path, so every so often the shouting of a child screeches across the allotment. Barring this though it's mainly birds twittering, an occasional car door being slammed shut, and a very slight rumble of planes at Heathrow as their occupants jet off to who knows where.
Earlier I left Richard with his Shark vacuum cleaner. It arrived yesterday. He immediately unpacked it, checked it all over and gave it a quick try out. This morning he's been doing the two upstairs floors... and complaining that I was getting in the way in the bedroom when I wanted to get changed to come down here. After a brief break for us both and a soya milk coffee, I left him to his hoovering and came down here to do some tidying. All of that is now done and three beds are tucked away under cardboard, and another bed is thoroughly weeded. I could have done this weeks ago, and it's only taken me a couple of hours. Though for whatever reason I didn't get round to it then. And I have now. Which is good. That is how life is after all.
So, coming back to those two sayings. Sometimes you do need to put something off because you know you just don't have the energy to do it today. And sometimes things are too late as you missed a deadline, and whatever you do after missing that deadline will never take you back to it. For what I needed to get done here for some illogical reason these two sayings sprang to mind, though I have no idea really why they did. I guess somewhere in my mind they just wanted to. Certainly it's not been too late, and certainly I haven't put off until tomorrow what I could do today. Clearly, the time was just right.
For some it may seem like an odd thing to be spending a few hours on New Year's Day down at an allotment, though for me it seems the perfect way to start another calendar year. And a great way to start my third month of my blog, 'A Guernsey Gardener in London'.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 21
I have always grown Guernsey Half Long parsnips... partly out of nostalgia, and partly because they've always done well for us. For the first time, this year they didn't want to germinate. The first sowing did absolutely nothing, and the second sowing chose to do similar. As I'd sent some seeds off to Liz Zorab of Byther Farm so that she could have a go at them, and also shared some with the fabulous Vivi, after my second sowing I'd none left for a third sowing. A quick search online showed none in stock, which wasn't a huge surprise as it was well into the sowing season! However, there was no way we could be without parsnips so I decided I'd use the Tender & True seeds that had come free with a Kitchen Garden magazine.
Nine months from sowing, I've just pulled the first parsnip, which we're going to have for supper this evening (Christmas Day). You always wonder what lies beneath, and I have to say I'm really happy with what came out. It's grown true and strong and long and I hope is going to be tender as well and fully live up to its name. We've another full few rows of these parsnips so I hope that they'll all come out as good. Fingers crossed!!
I do love the Guernsey Half Long variety; they have big, broad shoulders and don't grow too long though you still get a really good amount of parsnip per seed. I've saved seed from one that we grew, did not harvest last year and left to go to seed... a flourish of flowery umbells followed by fennel-like seeds. If you're thinking of growing parsnips this year do remember that the seed does not stay vibrant for too long. It's said that it's best to get fresh seed each year, so if you do have seeds from last year or even the year before give them a go though be prepared to re-sow with fresh seed as germination may be poor.
I think I'll also be sowing some other parsnip varieties too this growing year. I've a Finnish one from Old Gardener Guy, and will definitely be giving those a go, and if I get some free seed of these Tender & True again I'll also sow them once more.
We sow our carrots and parsnips sparsely in a raised bed which is 3 decking boards deep, and do not thin them and do not cover them. As the carrot root fly flies only up to a certain height we generally get away without too much damage to our root veg. It's been the same this year and in the move to our new plot we'll be shifting the carrot bed from our lower plot up to our new one.
One thing that always surprises me is that parsnips in many countries are considered food just for livestock. They're certainly considered more than this in our house, and I think in many others. The wonderful starchy sweetness of parsnips makes them an essential with any decent roast, and therefore one of the true Kings of the Allotment Crop.
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 19
It may not seem like much of an auspicious start... but it's a start!!
Almost three months ago now I first noticed that a whole load of bricks had been stacked up against a wall at the bottom of our road. Who had put them there? Was someone going to use them for something? Was there a carefully concealed camera looking on to catch a thief?
All fair questions maybe, though knowing folk in our area often 'freecycle' by popping unwanted items on the pavement or their front wall, my immediate thoughts were "Can I take them?", "These could be very useful at the allotment", and "I need to get a wheelbarrow to trundle them across to our plots."
And the next time I passed them I had exactly the same thoughts... and the next time I passed... and the next time... and the next...
On Monday, I took the bull by the horns, or maybe it's better to say I took the bricks by a wheelbarrow.
It might seem like a relatively simple job, and it certainly was, though the time it has taken me to get round to doing this is symptomatic of the last few months. I'm really hoping that now, as we get in to the real darker days of winter, I will have more time at the plots, allowing me (and Richard!) to get them sorted for spring sowings and the happy onslaught of growing all that is green.
So this simple job was really our first task to getting the new plot into some sort of shape; albeit only by moving bricks from one place to another! The bricks, which are a hodgepodge of different colours, shapes and sizes, will be used to put on top of cardboard to weight it down so that the winds don't blow this ground cover away over winter. When we can get compost, from our bin or elsewhere, we will place this on top of the cardboard, and the weight of that compost will replace these bricks, though these bricks will do well in the meantime.
So it was from here (above left), at the bottom of our road, that I wheeled the bricks to here (above right), at the side of the shed on our new plot. We also acquired some tiles (though I'm not really sure what we can do with them!), and a few pieces of wood which I'm sure will come in handy at some point.
The scavenging of bits and pieces that one finds on one's daily jaunts certainly help keep the cost of an allotment down, and sometimes you get an unexpected and truly treasureable find.
Happy days. 😊
A Guernsey Gardener in London, Day 13
...long term partners.